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Manatee County mulls outsourcing its public golf courses

MANATEE -- The county is considering outsourcing operation of its two public golf courses to a private firm, which could affect the jobs of current employees.

The two golf courses are Buffalo Creek Golf Course, 8100 69th St. E., Palmetto; and Manatee Golf Course, 6415 53rd Ave. W., Bradenton, considered among the best public courses in the area.

The county has launched a “request for proposals” to see if a private firm could operate and manage the two courses less expensively than county employees do, said Robert Eschenfelder, deputy county attorney.

Proposals are due March 4, but that date might be delayed, according to Melissa Assha, contract and buyer manager for the county’s purchasing division.

It is the latest budget-cutting effort of county managers, who have been paring spending under revenue constraints.

Eschenfelder said whether such a plan would produce savings or not has yet to be determined, as is the fate of golf course employees.

“If the commission approves an agreement that privatizes the course, every employee would be impacted because they would not need them anymore,” said Eschenfelder. “However, usually a new vendor will hire them on with the private company, but it will depend on the vendor.”

Although he could not say exactly how many workers the golf courses employ, he said he thought the number was about 10 or so full-timers, with the remainder being part-timers.

Under the request-for-proposals process, there is an informational session during which vendors take a tour, which they did last week; a deadline for submission; and a staff committee that rates the proposals, Eschenfelder said.

The committee looks at how much money the company would be able to return to the county, and makes a final recommendation to the county administrator. If he agrees, a contract is negotiated that is eventually voted on by county commissioners, Eschenfelder said.

A manager at Manatee Golf Course declined an interview Friday, as did several employees there.

The 18-hole course, dotted with rose bushes and lakes, boasts practice putting and chipping greens, and a grass driving range with target greens.

Last year, 50,445 rounds of golf were played there, down from 60,896 rounds in 2008, according to the request-for-proposals document posted at the county government website.

The course was busy Friday with golfers, many vacationing snowbirds from the north.

A foursome relaxing after a round said they paid a combined $183.16 in greens fees, cart costs and taxes. They hailed from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois.

Nearby, Jeff Wise, 60, a retiree from northern Ohio, was waiting near the driving range.

“I don’t like the idea. Everybody’s looking to save money,” he said of the outsourcing proposal.

“They’ll let them go, and set their salary lower, and hire them at a lower rate,” he predicted of county employees who currently operate the course.

Golfer Hazel Steskal, 74, of Longboat Key, didn’t like the idea, either: “They’ve done such a good job of running it.

She said of her experience over the past 10 years, “They’re so friendly, and the course maintenance has been great.”

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.

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